MANILA, Philippines – At almost 5 pm on Tuesday, August 28, reporters received this text message from the Supreme Court’s public information office: “Advisory: Due to pressing work demands, the press statement of Chief Justice [Lourdes] Sereno will be instead issued tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding.”
Tuesdays are en banc session days for the SC, which also means Tuesdays are news days for reporters covering the Court. On this day, though, at the first en banc session presided over by the new Chief Justice, the reporters were made to wait not only for possible decisions or resolutions but for a statement from Sereno herself.
Sereno already made one earlier in the day, in which she said she would not be granting media interviews. “If the Supreme Court is to return to its golden days, then the chief justice must respectfully decline all these well-meaning requests for interview,” she said in her statement.
While Sereno would rather not face the media, she is known for disclosing information that is traditionally not considered for public consumption. She caught the ire of some fellow justices when she detailed the internal deliberations of the SC on the petition for temporary restraining order (TRO) filed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In her dissenting opinion, Sereno said that then Chief Justice Renato Corona’s version of the resolution did not truthfully reflect the High Court’s vote in November 2011, which suspended the implementation of the TRO issued in Arroyo’s favor. Sereno detailed in her dissent that the SC voted 7-6 for the suspension of the order following Arroyo’s non-compliance with one of the conditions attached to it. Corona, in the resolution that was eventually promulgated, wrote otherwise.
Thus, when Sereno was appointed chief justice on August 24, not a few asked how the other justices received her appointment, especially those who were far more senior than she is. Sereno is only 52 and is a junior justice at that, having been appointed to the Court only in 2010. Not all the justices were present in Malacañang on Saturday, August 25, when she took her oath.
On her first en banc session day, however, 12 justices were present; only Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr, who is on sick leave, skipped the en banc session.
Business as usual
The first en banc day was business-as-usual for Sereno, who ordered the reorganization of the Court’s 3 divisions. The internal rules of the Court state that the chairmanship of the divisions is based on seniority: the chief justice chairs the first division, the second most senior chairs the second division, and so on and so forth.
The divisions are now composed of the following:
Chairperson: CJ Maria Lourdes Sereno
Working Chairperson: Associate Justice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro
Members: Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama, Jr., Bienvenido Reyes
Chairperon: Associate Justice Antonio Carpio
Members: Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Mariano Del Castillo, Jose Perez, Estela Perlas-Bernabe
Chairperson: Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Members: Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad, Jose Mendoza
Sereno also took time to meet with SC employees in the morning.
Outside the SC, members of the farmers’ groups Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas held a picket to protest Sereno’s appointment.
Both questioned Sereno’s credibility, claiming she was biased in favor of the owners of Hacienda Luisita.
Sereno voted in favor of distributing the 4,000-hectare sugar plantation to farmers, but said land valuation for the just compensation of the Cojuangco family (the family of President Aquino’s mother) should be pegged at the 2006 value (P2.5 million/hectare), and not the 1989 fair market value (P40,000/hectare).
“The new CJ’s integrity and credibility was already marred by her [bias for] the President and his relatives who are hell bent in not giving up Hacienda Luisita,” said Rodel Mesa, secretary-general of UMA. – Rappler.com
More in #SCWatch:
- SC must return to ‘dignified days of silence’ – Sereno
- ‘Woman CJ not necessarily pro-woman’
- Next 3 presidents will have Sereno as CJ
- Sereno is 1st female chief justice
- 22 official candidates for Chief Justice
- JBC to interview CJ candidates starting July 24
- 25 accept nominations for chief justice
- Questions for chief justice candidates
- JBC should review process of choosing CJ
- Besides JBC, Palace has judicial search committee
- CONVERSATIONS: How should the JBC choose the next chief justice? #SCWatch
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